Perhaps one of the most intriguing figures in the recent history of art, Andy Warhol left behind not only eccentric work but a truly unbelievable life as well. The Pittsburgh-born artist was a founding figure in pop art, in addition to turning his hand to producing, writing, and everything in between.
Warhol’s distinctive fingerprints were plain to see in each piece he created. On his death, at the modest age of 59, he left behind a series of fascinating stories worthy of any A-lister.
From the peculiar recipes for roast iguana in his one and only cookbook to his habit of using urine—both his own and his friends’—in his art, here are some of the most outlandish and impossibly true details about the ever-colorful Warhol’s life and work.
In a five-year period, Andy Warhol produced just shy of 650 movies.
The name Andy Warhol is synonymous with art, of course, but this creative soul expressed himself in various media besides. Admirers may not be as familiar with his directorial pursuits.
In the 1960s, he produced large numbers of films ranging in variety, storyline, and genre. As was always the way with Warhol, he defied convention wherever he could in the creation of these movies. Perhaps his best-known piece is an eight-hour slow-motion recording of the Empire State Building, which the daring director simply titled Empire.
This outlandish work is shocking enough, but the truly incredible thing is just how prolific Warhol was at his movie-making peak: between 1963 and 1968, he created almost 650 different movies!
Andy Warhol created a movie with one shot: his partner asleep.
Empire, of course, is an outrageous concept that only a visionary of Warhol’s bold style would be able to pull off. It was a refinement of an approach he had experimented with earlier in a movie that was, perhaps, even more surreal.
The 1964 film, Sleep, was a good deal shorter, clocking in at a comparatively reasonable 5 hours and 20 minutes long. What was the subject matter this time? John Giorno, Warhol’s then-lover, sleeping, played on a loop!
Even more incredible is the fact that, on the fiftieth anniversary of Sleep, Finland’s Lija Juha created a remake of the film in Warhol’s honor, with herself as the sleeping subject. This director’s piece was eight hours long, featuring dream sequences and other curious camera techniques.
Andy Warhol’s name and birthdate were a mystery for many years.
Andrew Warhola, to use his birth name, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on August 6, 1928, to parents who had moved to the United States from Czechoslovakia. Andy adopted the name Warhol much later, after being mistakenly credited as such on an early piece of his work.
Being the enigma Warhol was, it’s no surprise that some of these major details, such as his name, remained secret for some time. In fact, he never gave the same information about his birth twice. As the great man himself put it, “I’d prefer to remain a mystery… I never give my background and, anyway, I make it all up different every time I’m asked.”
Some of Andy’s most famous works were inspired by his childhood lunches.
As with many creative minds, Warhol released such a wide body of work in his lifetime that it’s difficult to select stand-out pieces. However, there are some works that have come to define his style and approach to art.
For many fans, the most prominent image that comes to mind is Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s Soup Cans series. What’s particularly interesting about this work, though, is how neatly it defined Warhol’s humble upbringing.
The artist is a popular culture icon who happily committed himself to the glamorous world of celebrity life, but his Campbell’s soup work was inspired by his mother, who ate a lot of this soup, along with the family, during Warhol’s childhood.
Andy Warhol had premonitions that he would suffer a violent death, and he almost did.
On June 3, 1968, feminist author, Valerie Solanas, came to Warhol’s studio, The Factory in New York City, locating the artist and firing three shots at him. (Critic Mario Amaya was also shot in the hip.) Thankfully, only one bullet hit Warhol, who had emergency surgery and survived.
At her trial, Solanas claimed that Warhol had control over her life and her work, stating, “It’s not often that I shoot somebody. I didn’t do it for nothing. Warhol had tied me up, lock, stock, and barrel. He was going to do something to me which would have ruined me.”
Andy asked friends to urinate on his work.
As anyone in the industry will testify, art isn’t just about the finished piece. It’s about the process. Naturally, an eccentric creative mind like Andy Warhol had his own unique (and probably smelly) process. He used urine to help with the oxidation process of his work.
For his 1977 paintings, The Oxidations, he used paint containing copper. Urine, he found, would change the color, look, and feel of the piece as a result—particularly when different peoples’ urine mingled. On discovering this, he enlisted friends to urinate onto the canvasses he used!
Andy Warhol created a piece of 200 one-dollar bills that sold for $43.8 million.
Needless to say, the work of world-renowned legendary artists attracts only the wealthiest buyers. Warhol’s most famous pieces come with dizzying price tags, and his 200 One Dollar Bills is no exception.
This 1962 silkscreen canvas, as the name suggests, depicts 200 actual-size images of one-dollar bills. Prior to an auction at Sotheby’s in November 2009, estimates suggested it would fetch somewhere in the region of $8-12 million, but the record-breaking bidding far eclipsed that.
When the auction finally ended, the piece sold for a remarkable $43.8 million! This iconic piece remains the most expensive of Warhol’s that Sotheby’s has ever sold at auction. “Considering the market that we were selling it in,” said Leslie Prouty, Sotheby’s Senior Vice President and Contemporary Art Department senior, “that just tells you how extraordinary the moment was and how extraordinary the piece was.”
Andy Warhol once managed the rock band, The Velvet Underground.
Andy Warhol was a titan in his field and a very prolific worker. Nevertheless, he found ample time to turn his considerable talents to other creative fields too.
Given his celebrity connections, it’s no surprise that Warhol rubbed elbows with some very impressive people during his colorful life. Fans of his work may not know, however, that he managed Lou Reed’s legendary New York City rock band The Velvet Underground for a time.
Warhol used his influence and passion for all things creative to make The Exploding Plastic Inevitable—events dedicated to all things art, music, and movies—a reality. Featuring The Velvet Underground in the festivities, he then went on to co-manage them, producing The Velvet Underground & Nico and creating the famous artwork for the cover of the 1967 album.
Andy’s nickname was “Drella,” as close friends likened him to Dracula and Cinderella.
On the subject of The Velvet Underground, some fans may wonder where the title for the 1990 album Songs For Drella came from. That’s simple: it’s an homage to Warhol, who was nicknamed Drella!
Why did close friends and coworkers call him this? Well, it was a reference to the two disparate sides of his personality: half Dracula, half Cinderella, Warhol was a volatile man who could be cold, calculating and deceptive one moment and sweet and charming the next.
This is often the case with temperamental artistic souls, of course, so this incredible nickname fit Warhol like a glove.
Andy and Suzie Frankfurt created a bizarre cookbook called Wild Raspberries.
With his wealth and celebrity status in mind, it’s only natural that Warhol would be given all manner of opportunities for collaborations in various fields. Perhaps his strangest project of all, though, was the cookbook Wild Raspberries.
Before becoming a megastar in the art world, Warhol illustrated children’s books, among other things. It was in this capacity that he attracted the attention of interior decorating legend, Suzie Frankfurt. The pair were soon fast friends.
Together, they decided to work on a series of books to parody the snooty French cookbooks that were so in style at the time.
The pair handmade these books, in very small numbers, giving most away as gifts. It wasn’t until Wild Raspberries was published in 1997 that its incredible contents really came to light. Between the outlandish recipes for Roast Iguana Andalusian and Greengages á la Warhol, among other things, and the remarkable illustrations, the book is as much an extraordinary work of art as anything else Warhol produced in his lifetime.
Andy had an impressive collection of taxidermy animals.
Over the course of his lifetime, Andy owned more than twelve Siamese cats, two dachshunds, two more cats that lived at The Factory itself, and that’s just for starters. As he wrote himself, “I never met a pet I didn’t like.”
It may not be surprising, then, that The Andy Warhol Museum continues to hold such exhibitions as “Canis Major: Warhol’s Dogs and Cats (and other party animals)” to honor this fact. Perhaps more shocking, though, is the fact that the artist owned an extensive collection of taxidermy animals.
Through animal-focused work such as his Endangered Species series, he fostered this affinity for animals throughout his life. It extended to an expansive and extraordinary collection of taxidermy creatures, which included a penguin, a moose head, a lion, and a peacock!
Andy Warhol was buried with a bottle of Estee Lauder “Beautiful” perfume.
Animals were just one of Warhol’s passions, with perfume being another. A sense of smell contributes to a very strong connection with a memory or memories. Warhol wanted to embrace this fact to the fullest.
In an attempt to record and keep track of memories, he used different scents as triggers and would change the perfume he used every three months. This was all part of what he called his “Permanent Smell Collection,” as he wrote in 1975’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again):
“I switch perfumes all the time. If I’ve been wearing one perfume for three months, I force myself to give it up, even if I still feel like wearing it, so whenever I smell it again it will always remind me of those three months. I never go back to wearing it again; it becomes part of my permanent smell collection.”
Perfumes meant so much to Warhol that, on his burial, his friend Paige Powell placed two items in the grave with him: an issue of Interview magazine and a bottle of Estee Lauder’s “Beautiful.”
By Chris Littlechild, contributor for Ripleys.com